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Flood swamps poverty-hit delta

Floodwaters from the bloated Mississippi River and its tributaries spilled across farm fields, cut off churches, washed over roads and forced people from their homes in the poverty-stricken Delta region.

Hundreds have left their homes in the Delta in the past several days as the water rose toward some of the highest levels on record.

The flood crest is expected to push all the way through the Delta by late next week.

Officials in the town, which has no local newspaper or TV stations, tried to reassure residents that they were doing what they could to shore up the levee would warn people if they needed to leave.

Mississippi governor Haley Barbour urged people to get out if they thought there was even a chance their homes would flood. He said there was no reason to believe a levee on the Yazoo River would fail, but if it did 32m of water would flow over small towns.

“More than anything else, save your life and don’t put at risk other people who might have to come in and save your lives,” he said.

Last night US president Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration for 14 counties in Mississippi because of the flooding. Housing and home repairs will be covered and low-interest loans to cover uninsured damage will be available.

The Mississippi Delta, with a population of about 465,000, is a leaf-shaped expanse of rich soil between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers, extending about 322km from Memphis, Tennessee to Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Swollen by weeks of heavy rain and snowmelt, the Mississippi has been breaking high-water records that have stood since the 1920s and 30s.

It is projected to crest at Vicksburg on May 19 and shatter the mark set there during the cataclysmic Great Flood of 1927. The crest is expected to reach New Orleans on May 23.

Even after the peak passes, water levels will remain high for weeks and it could take months for flooded homes to dry out.

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